To protect students with asthma while on fieldstrips, the Oakland Unified School District adopted strict guidelines.

But many teachers aren't aware of the rules.

In a survey of 32 teachers at Fremont High School, 87 percent said that they did not know the Oakland Unified School District requirements for taking a student with asthma on a field trip. About one in three teachers responded that they did not know if they had ever taken a student with asthma on a field trip.

One of those teachers is Sonja Totten-Harris, who was part of a team of teachers that took students enrolled in the school's Media Academy hiking up trails to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park for several years in a row.

"I believe we did have students with asthma when we went to Yosemite, but we didn't check," said Totten-Harris.

This is a great concern to Amanda Dunn, the district nurse who was assigned to several schools including Fremont until she resigned from Oakland Unified at the end of January.

Dunn said she worried about what could happen to asthmatic students if they were on a field trip unprepared or with teachers who had not been trained -- especially if that field trip was overnight and involved hiking.

"There would be no one trained to assist them," said Dunn. "The student wouldn't have an inhaler with them, and it (asthma) can result in death if it's not dealt with properly."


Advertisement

Under district policy, teachers must report to the nurse if they are taking students with asthma on a field trip at least two weeks in advance. This is supposed to give the nurses time to check that medications are current and that proper staff is able to go on the trip if needed. It also gives the teachers a chance to have a required 10-minute training on asthma.

"It's been an ongoing policy with the district, but I think because there hasn't been an OUSD nurse at Fremont, teachers maybe aren't aware," said Dunn, referring to the fact that Fremont went for years without a district nurse. The school does, however, have a health clinic with trained medical staff.

Joanna Locke, director of health and wellness for the school district, said she was not surprised to hear the survey results, which also showed that 94 percent of teachers had never had training on how to care for a student with asthma.

"If the nurse doesn't know about the trip, teachers can't receive any training, so the results of your survey do not surprise me," Locke said.

She said Fremont High, which has one of the highest rates of asthmatic students in the district, is not the only school where teachers lack training on asthma.

On the other hand, the largest high school in Oakland did receive good marks from Locke on asthma awareness.

"Oakland Tech did a great job training teachers this year," said Locke. "Because the nurse was able to get time at a staff meeting to do so."

Fremont teachers say they do want training on how to help asthmatic students. About 90 percent of the survey respondents, including biology teacher Caroline Kwon, said they would like to have training.

"A lot of students have asthma or don't even know they have it," said Kwon. "Asthma is a common disease especially here in Oakland. It would help a lot."

Fremont senior Alejandra Lopez, 17, has severe asthma and would be relieved if that training did take place. While she believes she personally would be OK if she had an attack at school or on a field trip, she is not sure everyone at Fremont with asthma would be.

"I already know what to do but (training for teachers) would be good for other people," said Lopez.

Daniel Hurst is principal of Fremont High, whereas many as one in four students have had an asthma diagnosis and about 30 have severe asthma.

When asked if he had plans to offer asthma training to teachers and staff, he said there was no plan for one.

"But if the clinic offers that, then we certainly can schedule that," he said.